It may not seem as if Hollywood produces lots of movies anymore. But last weekend saw Linda Cardellini movies competing with each other for your entertainment dollar.
Who is Linda Cardellini? In the Marvel Comics series of movies, she’s Laura Barton, Hawkeye’s wife. In “The Curse of La Llorona,” she’s the lead, Anna, the mother of the two children haunted by the Mexican legend of the title.
You might know her from other appearances. She was peachy as frumpy Velma in the live-action “Scooby Do” movies. And she was Marky Mark’s ex and Will Farrell’s current wife in the “Daddy’s Home” movies.
Like some other active stars (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston and Joey King, for example), she now takes the lead in a horror picture. “The Curse of La Llorona” is tangentially related to “The Conjuring,” “Annabelle,” “Insidious ” and the movies in their series.
But maybe “La Llorona” isn’t quite in the class with those pretty scary films. The title, we are told, means “the weeping woman.” She’s a ghost from Mexico.
Early we learn that in 1673 a mother drowned her two elementary school-aged sons to get back at their father. Apparently she then committed suicide and she spends eternity looking for another pair of children to possess, at least long enough to drown them.
Cardellini plays Los Angeles social worker Anna, herself a widowed mother of two. She is called out to the shuttered home of one of her subjects. This woman’s two kids haven’t attended school for a couple of days. She has them locked in a closet, its door covered with paintings of human eyes.
One of them has recent skin wounds on his wrist. So the authorities take the boys and put them in an institutional dormitory. That night la Llorona grabs them and leaves their bodies under an overpass near the Los Angeles River —the big paved one often seen in films.
“Often seen (or heard) in films” is an expression one can use frequently when discussing this ghost story on film. Her subject blames Anna for the kids’ deaths. The state figures, at least for a while, that their mother killed them. Anna’s son has been out at the place where the bodies were found.
So the ghost fixes on him. And here’s the really nice turn in this predictable plot: The authorities suspect Anna of having abused her own children.
She seeks help from a priest. He sends her to a tubby, unofficial exorcist (Raymond Cruz). Then the family and their hired gun spend a night fighting off this spook who appears in mirrors (cracking them) and who seems to be oozing ink. “Is she coming?” Anna asks. “She’s already here,” Olvera replies.
Familiar things can be, as Bob Walkenhorst has pointed out, either “classic” or “just old.” The tension in “La Llorona” (not “La Llama” or “La Bamba”) is between these two identifications. If the movie works for you, it has followed a classic pattern. If it bores you, it is formulaic and cliché.
Most of us in the theater seemed to think it was a light classic. It has a symbolic necklace that doesn’t really ever pay off. It has lots of protective ritual, including the sprinkling of a holy mulch that looks like potpourri and the turning of swimming pool agua into holy water.
It has unseen powers appearing in locked rooms, a rag doll that figures in the plot, some long shots up the tower of a church, a dreamcatcher (albeit a bronze one) that doesn’t really help the story, an attic, bumping doors, rustling curtains, a dripping faucet, and really just about all the details one expects in a ghost story.
Horror movies aren’t usually ghost stories. But the films in the “Conjuring” sequence, about ghost-busters Loraine and Ed Warren, have brought the form of Henry and M.R. James back into popular entertainment.
They’ve also popularized the appearance of known but not tremendously celebrated acting talents in horror films. Like Linda Cardellini. So we got a double dose of her this last weekend.